The Owyhee Canyonlands have been described as a Yellowstone-sized expanse of red-rock canyons, blue-ribbon trout streams and sage-covered hills in eastern Oregon’s high desert country that is one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the West.
Having lived many years in the Beaver State, and taken more than a few road trips eastward, I can testify that the Canyonlands are truly a region of striking natural beauty, an area that provides a habitat for all kinds of animal life.
Including cattle, which were the one of the main focal points of a large gathering of the residents of the town of Jordan Valley, Ore., a hop, skip and a two-hour pickup ride west of Boise, Idaho. The town of some 200 permanent residents takes its name — I kid you not — from Michael Jordan, a prospector who discovered gold in a nearby creek during the Civil War.
A different kind of civil war is what brought more than 300 ranchers, businesspeople and various officials of Malheur County (that name ought to ring a bell) into the Jordan Valley high school gym last weekend. The occasion, according to a lengthy report by the Associated Press, was a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). The topic: federal land management policies in the Canyonlands.
That’s an even more controversial issue than usual because of a proposal to designate some 2.5 million acres of the Canyonlands as a national monument. A coalition of environmental groups is advocating strongly for such a monument, which can be created by President Obama through an executive order.
As the AP story noted, “Everybody who spoke expressed some degree of disagreement with a proposed 2.5 million-acre national monument in the area.”
The key issue raised by the ranchers in attendance centered on the effect of potential regulatory restrictions on grazing, should the region be declared a national monument.
“The canyonlands proposal would encroach upon 100% of my land,” Elias Elguren, a cattle rancher and treasurer of the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition, was quoted as saying. “If this went through, I would need to reconsider my entire business.”
The coalition has been fundraising to ensure that “local communities are included in the future of the Owyhee Canyonlands,” and that Congress has a vote in the process,” according to their news release.
The environmental groups backing the monument proposal, led by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, maintain that grazing rights would not be affected if a monument is created. However, in a nonbinding advisory vote in March, 90% of voters in Malheur County opposed creating a national monument, so those sentiments are not shared by the residents who live there.
How will this play out? Stay tuned, because the local opposition is well-organized, very vocal and determined to do what it takes to ensure that ranching continues as a viable enterprise in the Canyonlands.
A legal travesty
Now let’s travel 250 miles west to Oregon’s largest city: Portland.
That’s where U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown has spent many hours dealing with the misguided behavior of more than two dozen members of Bundy clan members and their supporters, who are facing federal charges in connection with the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Jordan Valley.
Judge Brown set a September trial date for the defendants, despite objections from several defense attorneys, who argued that they didn’t have enough time to prepare. She also ordered Jake Ryan, one of the self-appointed militia members in the armed takeover, to be remanded without bail until the trial. Ryan had been on the run for more than a month before his arrest this week in Clark County, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland.
The judge then upheld her decision to send Ammon Bundy and three other defendants to Las Vegas next week for a court appearance there to face charges stemming from the 2014 armed standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch near the Nevada town of Bunkerville (has there ever been a more appropriate name for a place for this pack of radicals to hole up?).
According to news reports, Judge Brown made her rulings “during a testy hearing” in which she repeatedly admonished defense lawyers for making repetitive arguments, and at one point threatened to remove one of the defendants from the courtroom.
“Defendant Jason Patrick nearly got tossed,” AP reported, “after the judge, who had been snapping at lawyers to stay on point, told him to stop talking.”
Patrick’s reply? “I was just wondering if there will be more violent outbursts by the judge,” he said.
Kenneth Medenbach, another one of the defendants, who is acting as his own attorney, then demanded that Judge Brown prove that she took the oath of office. She told him she had done so publicly in November 1999, to which Bundy supporters in the gallery shouted, “Why is there no record of it?”
“Dumb” would be a generous characterization of that legal tactic, but typical of the juvenile strategy and nonsensical accusations that have been the calling card of the Bundinistas from the very beginning.
Meanwhile, at the Jordan Valley meeting, Oregon State Rep. Cliff Bentz asked Rep. Walden about the reality that the Canyonlands controversy has created an “us versus them” mentality. Walden acknowledged that but called for “cooperation between all sides” for any possible resolution to be effected.
“We can’t create this bunker mentality,” he was quoted by AP. “We need to work together, and we need to be unified.”
And that, folks, is how our system of governance is supposed to work.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator